Senate Use of the "Hyphenated"-American

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by Obi-Wan McCartney, Feb 23, 2012.

  1. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

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    Aug 17, 1999
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    Here is a quick read on what I am talking about.

    Just thinking about this after reading an article put out by the Asian American Journalists Association about Jeremy Lin. Nothing critical to say about it except their point number one was "Jeremy Lin is Asian American, not Asian." Nothing wrong with that either, except I would have preferred saying something like "Jeremy Lin is American, not Asian." Lin was born here, raised her, and has lived here all his life, how is he not simply an American?

    Reading that wikipedia link I included gives an interesting history of other Hyphenated American designation no longer in use. We rarely say "he's German American" or he's "Polish American." No doubt here in Chicago we still have these ethnic groups, there are plenty of Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Polish Americans, etc., but what I'm saying is you don't really here that phrase too often.

    You tend to hear "African American" but I myself prefer to just use the term black unless I'm around people I don't know. Most black people I know don't take offense to the term, and also most black people I know aren't from Africa, not even second generation.

    Yet the term African American seems to be here to stay. Asian American seems like it is on that same track. Interestingly enough, you don't really hear people talk about "Hispanic American," you just here people say Hispanic. Similarly, you don't really hear "Arab" American but I guess you hear people talk about "Muslim" American. You never hear the term "European" American, except in discussions like these, but the term "white" American is thrown around in the public discourse.

    The point of this seemingly unfocused rant is, why do some Hyphenated terms stick around while others fade? I know that for basic sociological and political realities we have to have terms to understand various groups of citizens, but doesn't it seem rather arbitrary? Moreover, someone who understands English better, isn't there a way we could put the American part first? You know, to emphasize the American part? Like "American of European descent", or "American of mixed Asian Hispanic descent"...?
  2. anakinfansince1983 Nightsister of CT, SW Saga and Lucasfilm Ltd

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    Other than African American, I thought the hyphenated-American terms were for people who are only a hundred years or so removed from the country of ancestry? (Just a guess on my part.)

    My husband's great-grandparents were immigrants and we still use the term "Italian American" for him, and I feel fairly safe using it for my kids as well. However, I am an "American of Irish descent" as my family has been here for 300 years.
  3. Ghost Force Ghost

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    Oct 13, 2003
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    Yeah, the hyphen is usually only used if you're dealing with immigrants, or children of immigrants, and sometimes grandchildren of immigrants.

    If it's used beyond that, it's usually only because they're pureblooded, or really attached to their heritage, but I think most people are multi-ethnic now. (I'm Polish, French-Canadian, English, Irish... and possibly a dozen other things, we're not 100% sure, :p )

    "African-American" is only common because it's been deemed improper to describe someone as "black" or "negro."
  4. Raven Administrator Emeritus

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    Oct 5, 1998
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    I use French-Canadian as I would Spanish-American - as an indicator of a minority mother tongue, rather than as a homogenous ethnic group.
  5. Jabbadabbado Manager Emeritus

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    Mar 19, 1999
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    My son has dual citizenship, but no one ever calls him an Austrian-American.
  6. Mortimer_Snerd Jedi Knight

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    Mar 14, 2004
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    My girlfriend is Lakota, and has a problem with the term "Native American" as her people weren't "Americans" before some Italian cartographer labeled this land such. I have argued that I am a "Native American" because I was born here. I'm not sure if that fits into this discussion, bet hey...there's my two cents.

  7. Obi-Wan McCartney Jedi Grand Master

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    Aug 17, 1999
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    I understand the issue with "native American," but part of the issue is that we are speaking English. The English language has its own terms for every ethnicity, the German's don't call themselves German in their own language, same with Indians or the Chinese.

  8. Jabba-wocky Force Ghost

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    I actually don't think it would make sense to "emphasize the American part." As DuBois's essays (among others) suggest, African-American (and all its forerunners and successors) emerged largely to stress the ways in which these people could not consider themselves the same as all other Americans. The same is true for Asian Americans and Hispanics. The decline in the use of the European hyphenations parallels the greater acceptance of those groups into society. I don't think there's a way to short circuit that process. As you indicated, there are hard sociological rationales behind what happened. Those are the things that have to change before we see any superficial movement about how people self-identify.
  9. Lowbacca_1977 Jedi Master

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    Jun 28, 2006
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    The more I think about it, I don't know if my family's ever really gone for that angle. Like, I've never thought of myself as Swedish-American (which I mostly am) and I don't think my family has ever talked about anyone after my great-grandparents as Swedish-Americans (my great-grandparents being the ones who actually immigrated)

    Granted, the usage of it has largely seemed weird to me.
  10. anakinfansince1983 Nightsister of CT, SW Saga and Lucasfilm Ltd

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    My father always says he's going to check "Native American" on the census because he is, after all, a "native American." But he also says he's going to check "other" and write in "human" in the column that asks for "race."

    What do indigenous North Americans prefer? I'm just curious. I thought the term "Indians" or "American Indians" was pretty un-PC.
  11. Alpha-Red Jedi Grand Master

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    Apr 25, 2004
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    Seems to me that rather than African-Americans or Asian-Americans being excluded from the encompassing "American", White/Caucasian Americans should get their own hyphenated subgroup.
  12. wannasee Jedi Master

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    Jan 24, 2007
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    I don't mind the hyphenated nationalities, so long as the hyphenation communicates something useful about the person's identity.
  13. Vader_vs_Maul Jedi Master

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    I was thinking the other day about that, except for Native Americans, there is no specific ethnicity that belongs to America, so being an American is dependent on citizenship or sharing the American values. Someone of French ancestry will inevitably be French, regardless of whether he/she has citizenship or not, or whether he/she even shares the, shall we say, values or culture of the mainstream French society. Let's say an American-born person who fundamentally disagrees with the Constitution... he/she can be deemed un-American, and rightfully so, because being American is not defined by ethnicity, but rather by a set of ideas. Whereas someone who is French... even if he betrays his own country and, let's say, is expelled to exile; while legally no longer a French citizen, he/she will always be ethnically French. I'm not arguing which approach is better, it was just an interesting observation.
  14. Likewater Jedi Master

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    Dec 31, 2009
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    Well, because {Bleep} happened.


    Remember, While the present is not governed by the past it is shaped by it, And not that long ago you were only "really" American if you were white.

    And minority peoples not being in the position to delude themselves about their position in society, referred to themselves ad Hyphenated Americans, rather than whatever color the society of white privilege assigned to them.

    And it stuck, yes many remember being socially excluded for not being white, and prefer the hyphen as a symbol of that exclusion. Some times as an act of defiance, others as a never forget ?you are never really one of them? frame of mind that was once essential to survival.
  15. Jabba-wocky Force Ghost

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    I would mostly agree with that summary Likewater except I wouldn't so readily put everything in the past. There are still lots of ways that many minority groups are not treated as unquestionably American. The "Birther" conspiracy theory being only one of the more obvious recent examples.
  16. GrandAdmiralPelleaon Jedi Master

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    Oct 28, 2000
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    Ehrm, German isn't an ethnicity, even if some bloke from last century thought it was. It's nothing more than a "nationality". As for the hyphenated stuff, always sounded rather weird when I saw people being proud of it. Seems like such a tenuous connection. I get where it comes from, doesn't make it less odd. First generation, sure, but when you're talking about 300 years in the past? Hell, then I'd start to qualify for English-Spanish-Belgian, if I want to dig far enough. :p
  17. DarthIktomi Jedi Padawan

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    That's because they're too busy saying "You misspelled Australia." See also "Ann Rand".

    Re: "Native American". The other problem is that it takes six syllables. Also, let's say I move to Australia, I'm not really a native of Australia, now am I?

    Is that unlikely? Not really. The provincial Indian is one of those myths, like the technophobic Indian. It goes into "excrement white people believe because it makes them more comfortable" file.
  18. LtNOWIS Jedi Master

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    May 19, 2005
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    My white college professor said that most of them are ok with those terms. Even radicals like the American Indian Movement used the term.

    Anyways, the un-hyphenated Americans would most accurately be the people who check "American" as their ethnicity on the census forms. They're a plurality in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, and West Virginia. It apparently means a white American who doesn't know or care to know where their ancestors came from.

    I personally think of myself as an American with descent from 3 or so countries, not a [one of those 3 countries]-American. I acknowledge that I'm a biracial American as a point of fact, but I wouldn't "claim" it or be proud of it, since I don't recognize that identifier as a coherent group or community. So I'm just an American, of [whatever] descent.
  19. DarthIktomi Jedi Padawan

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    May 11, 2009
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    Plus, it's very low on the priority list. When you consider that a good number of white people think we can transform into animals, I'd say the number of misunderstandings about Indians is close to 100%.
  20. Mortimer_Snerd Jedi Knight

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    Mar 14, 2004
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    All the Indians I know call themselves "Indians." I think the stigma surrounding the term is based on white guilt.

  21. Ghost Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
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    The only thing is that then they can be confused with Asian Indians.

    From my experience, they don't like to be called Indian, or American Indian, or Native American. They like to be called by their tribe. Example: Cherokee, Mohegan, Wampanoag, Narragansett, Navajo, etc.
  22. Jabba-wocky Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    May 4, 2003
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    Indeed.

    If you saw a French or German person, you wouldn't just call them "European" and assume there were no differences between them, so why would you think a Kiowa and an Iroquois should somehow be lumped together on the basis of living in completely different parts of the third largest continent on Earth?
  23. DarthIktomi Jedi Padawan

    Member Since:
    May 11, 2009
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    It's true about the Eskimos I know saying "Eskimo". But the Eskimos I know are all Yup'ik anyway. Also, Inuit is a masculine plural noun (literally, "true men"; Eskimo mythology features a lot of shapeshifting).

    Also, political correctness comes from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This is based on two ideas:

    The Hopi conception of time Basically, Sapir got everything wrong about not only the Hopi conception of time, and the Hopi language, but, well, time as physicists think of it.

    Eskimos having over nine thousand words for snow Oh yes, this one. Well, that was *puts on sunglasses* a snow job. One must wonder why nobody refers to Norwegian words for snow.